When discussing what winning a national championship would mean to him, Indiana Tech senior defenseman Blaine Flanigan had to pause to compose himself.
“I'm sorry, I'm kind of speechless, thinking about the trophy and what it would mean to me,” said Flanigan, a second-team All-Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference honoree. “It's just a lot to take in. It would be a culmination of these last four years and all this hard work and school and everything and it would mean a lot.”
It's easy to see why capturing a national title means so much to Flanigan and the Warriors lacrosse team. In the five seasons between 2017 and 2021, Tech lost in the national semifinals three times, saw its season cut short in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic and last year reached the national championship game before falling to No. 1 Reinhardt.
On the heels of that runner-up finish, Tech has turned in the best season in program history, rolling up a 16-0 record, No. 1 NAIA national ranking and WHAC regular-season and tournament titles. Today, the Warriors open NAIA National Invitational play, just three wins from the national title that has eluded the program since it began competing in 2010.
“That has fueled a lot of our team, especially the guys that have been on this for four or five years,” Flanigan said. “We have seen it from day one, competing for a championship from my freshman year all the way to my senior year, I feel like we've continued to grow and take that step each time. ... Last season we were so close and on the cusp of breaking through and I feel like it's finally going to happen this year.”
Standing in Tech's way this morning in the tournament quarterfinal in Pensacola, Florida, is No. 8 Benedictine College (10-6) from Kansas. The Warriors beat the Ravens 11-8 in the quarterfinals a year ago behind a six-goal performance from Andrew Ryan and then defeated them again in the regular season this year, winning 14-10 behind three more goals from Ryan – the two-time WHAC Offensive Player of the Year – and three from Josh Bramley.
Benedictine is coming off a win over No. 3 St. Ambrose in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament title game and has won three in a row. Warriors coach Bryan Seaman, the two-time WHAC Coach of the Year, emphasized Tech cannot look past the Ravens.
“They're a pretty fast team and a high-energy team,” Seaman said. “We'd like to say a lot of the same things about ourselves, so I think it's going to be a pretty intense matchup, especially with the season on the line. As long as we can come out with full energy and full focus, put our best game out there, I think it's more or less going to take care of itself.”
The winner of this morning's matchup will move on to face the winner of No. 4 Cumberlands and No. 6 Tennessee Wesleyan in the semifinals Thursday. Waiting on the other side of the bracket is second-ranked Reinhardt, the defending national champion, which has lost just once this season.
If Tech wins its first two games, it could get a chance Saturday to avenge its 17-8 loss in last year's title game, but Seaman has put a significant emphasis this week on taking the tournament one game at a time.
Not that the Warriors need much of a reminder. One of the team's mottos this season has been B.O.O.M., short for “Brothers On One Mission.” Now that they are so close to completing that mission, a letdown would be intolerable.
“It has been a very special season,” Flanigan said. “We'll all be very upset if we don't walk away with that championship, which is something that is in the back of our minds as we're starting the championship (today).”
vs. Benedictine (Kan.)
What: NAIA Men's Lacrosse National Invitational
When: 11 a.m. today
Where: Ashton Brosnaham Park, Pensacola, Fla.
Records: Indiana Tech (16-0), Benedictine (10-6)